Political lies and fallacies in Seychelles
Today in Seychelles, the national authorities are celebrating an event that occurred 30 years ago.
It was a coup d’etat.
Since the moment of its first execution to the present day, it has been ennobled by being relabelled “Liberation” in the name of Freedom and Liberty against exploitation and colonial oppression.
Whether or not there was exploitation and oppression in our land to the point that it justified armed revolt is a matter of debate. In my view, the Freedom and Liberty that will therefore most officially be celebrated in the country today appear to me to have been a fabrication that endured 14 years from 1977 to 1991 before revealing itself to have been nothing more than a convenient banner to rally behind in order to mask darker political ambitions of the leaders of the political opposition which, at the time of the power take-over, represented 47% of the electorate.
Their coup d’etat brought in a socialist-oriented, single party regime, to govern and rule the nation undisputed till 1993, and since, to continue ruling with scant attention paid to the demands of some 43% of the nation who has since rallied behind the opposition.
To many therefore, the new regime of 1977 developed to represent the very force of oppression it had sought to replace.
If these are the Freedom and Liberty now being celebrated, then they are ideals that need to be re-defined so that the nation as one could rejoice.
My purpose today is, in so far as my memory and the little reading of some background material permit, to remind myself of what my beloved country has gone through. It is also to commit my thoughts and impressions to share with whoever needs to be reminded never to accept blindly what is said.
It is not my intention to have another bout of SPUP / SPPF bashing. I simply wish to put into perspective some of the circumstances of the socialist regime, which I believe, seemed to belie the statements made by its leaders in support of their coup d’état.
In so doing, I recognise that I can make no pretence at absolute historical exactitude, and that what I take for facts may be disputed by whoever has opposing views on this subject.
Nonetheless, I will try to argue my point by briefly positioning Seychelles through the years of her young history right up to that fateful night of 4th June 1977.
Then I will consider selected statements made both in 1977 and in 1978, that gave justifications for the coup d'Etat and will make my comments on these, not so ancient statements, that still continue in 2006 -2007 to reflect the attitude and policies of the government of the day, as the following indicates:
"The majority of Seychellois will tomorrow celebrate a very memorable date that is very dear to our hearts: the 30th anniversary of June 5, 1977 when a group of fearless Seychellois changed the course of this country for the better, forever.
This group of Seychellois made the dreams of the people their pre-occupation when they lit the flame of the country’s liberation which led to extraordinary development and progress.
It is the June 5 1977 event which has lit the way to success and guided us to transform the conditions of our people who had been oppressed for a long time" - Nation, 4th June 2007
Seychelles and British Colonial rule
British Colonial rule
History tells us that, on their interminable quest to expand their mercantile, cultural and other horizons, the western Europeans, from the late 15th century through to the end of 19th century, established themselves as the dominating powers in the farthest reaches of the world, often through suppression and outright extermination of local potentates and cultures.
The process has been called colonisation.
Whatever moral or political stance we make today with regard to it, it nonetheless will remain an undisputed part of the world history that takes its justifications from the morals and politics of the time.
Throughout the colonial empires of Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and Germany, the colonies served the principal purpose of upholding the influence and power of the ‘mother country’ in international affairs, and as the natural resources of individual colonies allowed, lining the metropolitan treasury
In the case of the British Empire, colonial rule and administration was generally perceived as good, if benignly patronising. The colonial power developed the colonies’ services and infrastructures, however restricted this may have been to the main centres of colonial administration and despite it having more to do with the colonial power’s own comforts, health, safety and other strategic interests, than the welfare of the indigenous populations!
Notwithstanding, and in keeping with establishing its cultural influence and lifestyles, British colonial administration throughout the empire, upheld the rule of law, permitted free trade, freedom of expression and ensuring some form of representation and participation of local nationals in the running of national affairs. This has been a lasting legacy enduring, to this day, to a lesser or greater extent, throughout the countries of the British Commonwealth.
The Seychelles Islands
The islands of Seychelles were part of the French Empire from the mid 18th to until the early 19th Century when the 5700 or so souls living isolated, at a minimum 2-months’ sailing, from everyone else, became part of the British Empire through some Peace Treaty that ended a far away Napoleonic war between Britain and France.
British rule abolished slavery, allowed the Roman Catholic Church to establish itself, and despite what seemed to have been the hardships of daily living of the time, the colony’s population tripled within 100 years.
From the early 20th century when the administration of the islands was separated from that of Mauritius, the services and infrastructures of the new colony received greater attention, despite the country having no natural resources worthy of large scale exploitation. (The copra, patshouli and cinnamon oil industries and other island products weighed little in the trade and commerce basket of the British Empire).
Colonial Infrastructure development in Seychelles
Without seeking to praise colonial administration, it must be recognised that a significant part of what the islands today enjoy in terms of infrastructure and services were laid down less than 100 years ago.
At the same time, let us also recognise, that this is as it should have been!
New solid, permanent structures were built in the centre of what was becoming the new Capital, to house the public administration and the courts of law, the mainstays of British rule. British colonial administration established the organisation of public service, which endures to this day, along with all the basic statutes that still govern our modern life.
And to ensure that no Seychellois should be too far removed from the administration of Justice, courts were extended to include magistrates’ courts buildings at Grand Anse Praslin and Anse Royale, this in a country where no one is further than 30 km distant from the capital.
The colony’s health and social welfare infrastructures and services were bolstered under the colonial administrations of Governors Charles Richard Mackey O'Brien (1912-1918), Eustace Edward Twistleton-Wykeham Fiennes (1918-1922), Sir Joseph Aloysius Byrne (1922-1927) through to William Marston Logan (1942-1947) Sir Percy Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke (1947-1951) and Sir John Kingsmill Thorp (1958-1961) with the construction of the new hospital building, for improved health care and services, built in the 1920s, (and a National monument of the new republic in the 1980s). By the 1950s, this service was extended to include referral hospitals on Praslin, La Digue and at Anse Royale.
During the same period, the Fiennes Institute was built, as were schools, road networks and all - weather surfacing for the east and north coastal main roads, the Victoria pier and harbour, the Victoria market, (also a national monument since the 1980s.)
By the mid 1970s, the islands had a new international airport to receive inter-continental long haul flights and forever jettison its centuries’ old isolation!
If the country were being exploited and oppressed during that period, then it must have been of a particular flavour as the colonial administration left their legacies that endure to this day, not only in the infrastructures and services they provided, but in the names they left behind as a reminder of a country’s appreciation. To name a few: Logan Hospital on La Digue, Sir Selwyn-Selwyn Clarke Market in Victoria, Sir John Thorpe School in Victoria, Obrien House at Le Rocher, the recent Fiennes Institute at Plaisance, the Sweet Escott road at Anse Royale.
The move to independence
The islands’ course through history will be once again determined by events occurring far beyond its shores, when, at the end of the First World War, with the world opinion becoming more pro-emancipation, the British Empire started to succumb to rising expectations among colonial populations to be granted an increased measure of self-government. At the same time, it had to face nationalist agitation against economic disparities, often stimulated by perceived acts of racial discrimination by British settlers.
Seychelles’ early to mid 20th century politics were characteristically, very much in the hands of the British colonial system.
From the mid 1930’s British Colonial rule and administration had to contend with, and adjust to, local demands for increased local participation in the running of local affairs. By the mid 1940s the local Legislative Council comprised 4 directly elected members.
The Legislative Council comprised mostly the well-off in society of the time, the land-owners, merchants and other tax-payers (i.e the middle classes) along with the colonial power. It was seen by some as a mere extention of colonial rule and in the 1960s, with the onset of the so-called Cold War between the forces of Western Liberalism (Capitalism) and International Communism, and the nationalism the latter inspired to seek an increased influence over the former, the country would take that irrevocable step to once again allow its destiny to be charted by politics debated beyond her horizon
Mid 1960s Politics
Two new parties grew up in the mid 1960s to contest the right to represent the aspirations of the Seychellois.
One was the Seychelles People’s United Party (SPUP) of lawyer France Albert Rene, mostly pro-socialist and anti British rule.
The other was the Seychelles Democratic Party, of Lawyer James Richard Mancham, mostly liberal and, at the time, more in favour of closer ties with Britain such as those currently governing several former colonies: Gibraltar, the Falklands, St. Helena, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, etc
Both of the new political parties conducted separate, public and generally peaceful campaigns to further their causes and the right to seats at the 1967 Legislative Assembly Elections.
Mr Rene’s party however was seen as more prone to turn the campaign into ugliness in what local observers found as a policy of violence and aggression.
The party held protest marches against a variety of issues including what were described as unfair and unjust living conditions in the country (la prosesyon diri), the opening up of the country to tourism (anti tourism demonstration at Intendance Beach), the BIOT and its proposed military naval bases
Through their party-affiliated Workers’ Unions, it held strikes for better work conditions and pay. The strikes invariably ended up in rioting with the police using batons and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Terrorist actions were also partly laid at the doorstep of the SPUP when private commercial enterprises and public utilities were bombed during the brief period 1969-1972
In the early hours of 30th May 1971, an explosion caused by a demolition charge placed on the radio broadcasting premises at Union Vale totally destroyed the transmitters. The radio went off the air for several months. No responsibility was ever claimed nor were criminal charges ever brought against whomever.
A year later, in March 1972, just before the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth II on a royal visit, bombs exploded within the commercial areas of Le Chantier and Market Street. Some local observers ascribed the explosions to political protest against British presence and rule in the islands
Guy POOL, an activist of the SPUP, was found guilty of placing a bomb at the newly-built Anse Aux Pins, Reef Hotel in the early 1970s.
Following Guy Pool’s statements during his trial, Mr Rene himself was brought to court to answer charges that he and his party had planned and instructed the execution of these acts. It was then claimed that the planning was carried out from the Plaisance SPUP branch Office, at the time situated at the junction just opposite the La Misere –East Coast road. An East African lawyer, was recruited to represent Mr Rene, who was eventually cleared of all charges by the court.
Wild bush fires also erupted over the country during each election campaign. Private businesses, shops, kilns, etc, caught fire! Responsibility for these acts of arson were all generally ascribed to the SPUP. No proof was ever provided. No one was ever charged.
Despite these violent and fiery acts, both parties contested free and fair national elections (1967, 1970, 1974) on the basis of universal adult (21 years) suffrage. The SDP won the majority votes at each of these elections with 53.8% and 52.37% votes in 1970 and 1974 respectively
The result of these elections led both parties to participate in the national Legislative Councils, thereby effectively participating in the direction and management of national affairs. (The sessions of the Legislative Council were held at the main hall of the Seychelles College during the early 1970s, before they were transferred to the newly constructed National House.)
London Constitutional Conventions
Both parties were also represented at the London Constitutional Conventions (1974, 1975) that would eventually steer the country to Independence.
Negotiations and consensus reached at these conventions paved the way for the leader of the Seychelles Democratic Party, Mr James R. Mancham to become Chief Minister of the country from 1974, by virtue of his party having won the majority of electoral seats in the 1974 national elections, and to be President upon accession to Independence. Mr Rene was to become the nation’s Prime Minister in a government of national unity. (Coalition Government)
When the country became Independent in June 1976, the inter-party consensus was strictly applied. Mr Mancham became the new President. Mr France A. Rene, leader of the opposition party, the SPUP, became Prime Minister. Other members of the SPUP were given Ministerial portfolios.
The Seychellois people had thus effectively taken part in the national democratic process during the whole pre-independence period which, by and large, peacefully led the country to full independence and were all fully represented at the highest level of government!
Mr Rene, as Prime Minister of the newly independent country, swore allegiance to the constitution and loyalty to the Government. As the second-in-command of the executive, he had the priviledged position of fostering his party’s cause in the country’s destiny, irregardless of whether or not he was in agreement with the policies and strategies of the new Government under Mr. Mancham’s leadership.
History would prove that there were political ambitions that went further than to be second-in-command.
On the evening of 4th June 1977, when the President and several other senior Ministers were on official overseas missions, Mr Rene, with some 200 members of the SPUP, staged a coup d’Etat and overthrew the Government of which he was part
He thus effectively betrayed the trust he was held in as well as the oath of allegiance he had made before the nation on Independence Night, June 29th 1976.
There is only one word to describe the betrayal of national oaths of allegiance: Treason.
The Seychellois, is a peace-loving people. They were understandably dismayed and fearful to find, from the day of the coup d’etat, gun-totting persons in the streets and hearing of violent deaths that had occurred from the use of these very same guns.
Nothing in their history had prepared them to confront this ugly reality. Many were on the way to or from early Sunday Church Services when they heard gunfire. Little did any understand, until they reached home or met someone along the paths away from main roads, who informed them of the terrible news.
Others were caught unawares and were fired upon, as happened along the Mont Fleuri road off the Corgat Estate Housing Estate. (Till recently, the road-side wall still bore the marks of bullet holes from AK47, silent testimony of that terrible moment when, in the name of freedom, Seychellois opened deadly fire on his unarmed and unsuspecting brothers.)
If at Corgat Estate, the gunfire caused more alarm than anything else, it took a more tragic
turn when those who had launched a deliberate and premeditated attack against the Police Armory killed Berard Jeannie, the unarmed Police Constable on duty then.
Another terrible tragedy occurred along Benezet Street in Central Victoria where Davidson Chang Him lost his life to those who were calling themselves liberators.
The same tragedy would touch a certain Francis Rachel, member of the 200 who participated in the putsch.
Over the years, the nation will silently mourn her lost sons: Gilbert Morgan, Hasanali, Sonny Elizabeth, Simon Denousse, Alton Ahtime, Gerard Hoareau and others who simply disappeared or had 'accidents'. While we may not fully endorse the particular paths some of them trod upon, we respect their spirit, which having drunk from the fountain of liberty and nurtured in island joie de vivre, like ours, refused to be kept in the bottle of socialist tyranny, even if "à la Seychelloise." They paid the ultimate price for their defiance and their sacrifice remains a bright beacon on both the merit of standing up for democracy, rights and freedom, as well as the need for any change to be sought through peaceful and democratic means!
To this day, the circumstances of these tragedies remain largely a mystery, notwithstanding, which, Francis Rachel, one of the lost sons from the 'liberators' ' camp, was made into a national hero.
The whole country quite reasonably therefore, posed no objection to letting Mr Rene, over the initial years and thereafter, claim his victorious and unchallenged power take-over and crown himself as a conquering liberator.
Rationale for power take-over
Most free-thinkers in the country however understood very well that freedom for the people was merely a convenient argument used to secure the power and influence that had been denied by the democratic process.
And to the conqueror, the spoils and priviledges, including that to write history in any way chosen, irregardless of truths and facts.
In effect, Mr Rene’s regime got off on a basis of lies and half-truths that would be its 28-year hallmark.
On the morning of the 5th June 1977, the national radio, then the sole means of immediate, mass public information, announced at its 6.30 am opening time, that a group of people had carried out a coup d’etat, during the early hours of the day and had asked Mr Rene to form and lead a new government.
Later on in the same day, Mr Rene came in to address the nation over the radio.
Who was or not behind the putsch?
The nation will subsequently learn that Mr Rene was central to the planning and execution of the act including concluding arrangements with Nyerere’s regime in Tanzania for immediate direct military support and with the OAU, via the latter’s Liberation Committee, for immediate diplomatic recognition.
Who is or not masters in his country?
He declared, over the national radio, that Seychellois, despite being independent, were not masters in their own country. He thus conveniently ignored the well-established democratic process in the country, and in which his party had vociferously, and often also violently, participated.
He showered sarcasm on his predecessor and accused him of being flamboyant and more a playboy than President. He denounced his predecessor’s presidential motorcades and magnanimously declared that he would never have such styles around him. Pettiness was further officially elevated to the level of national politics when he announced his disdain for the honorary presidential title of ‘Your Excellency’
The whole nation will notice that for the next 28 years, Mr Rene would never travel anywhere in the country without an armed personal bodyguard by his side and a whole convoy of armed soldiers and armoured vehicles. As to playboy tastes, let the nation speak for itself.
Gift of the gab
Mr Rene was a man who seemed to enjoy listening to himself talk and who seemed to thrive before the obsequiousness of his peers. He seemed to have a gift of voluntarily wrapping verbal nooses around his opportunistic political neck at each time he is offered the chance to subject the nation to his particular, and often colourful, rhetoric.
I have selected some excerpts of the national address he made before the nation at the first commemorative anniversary of his coup d’etat.
The Government newspaper, Nation, carried the whole speech. The text is in what was then Creole at its early development stage as a language. I have attempted to literally translate this while retaining all its nuances to the local ears
I then chose to comment on the statements in order to show how Mr Rene was either mis-led, misguided and mis-informed or he carefully and cunningly mis-led, misguided and mis-informed the nation with a series of lies, half truths, fallacies and magnanimous promises, that was to be the hall-mark of his 28-year rule.
Date: 5th June 1978
Occasion: Public Speech at the Commemorative first year anniversary of the coup d’etat of 5th June 1977
Venue: Stadium, Victoria, Republic of Seychelles
1. On the people’s participation in ‘how the country should be run’
«We have started to set up a system that allows the people to express themselves. Before our liberation, people did not have the means to express their opinions. It is true that they could gossip and nag in the market or at street corners, but no one could seriously give his opinion on how the country should be run.” (translated. Source: Souvenir issue, Seychelles Nation, 5.6.78)
This statement conveniently ignored the whole democratic process that Mr Rene had participated in from 1964 and which had seen the country achieve Independence in a generally peaceful manner
Three national elections on the basis of multi-party contest and universal adult suffrage were held in 1967, 1970 and 1974. Two main political parties came to the fore : The SPUP of Mr Rene and the SDP of his rival, Mr Mancham.
Each party was free to hold its campaigns and convince voters to rally behind its banners and cause.
The two main political parties, Mr Rene’s SPUP and Mr Mancham’s SDP, who together pulled over 90% of popular votes, were represented on the Legislative Councils and subsequently at the Constitutional Conventions of 1974 and 1975 that would steer the country to Independence.
This whole process was the recognised, civilised and lawful way by which a nation contributes to charting its destiny.
Mr Rene was effectively negating history when he opted to say otherwise.
2. On freedom of expression
“In each district, there is branch office. In each region, there is the militia – radio and press is open for everybody. Workers have their National Unions and women have a national organisation. In addition, there is a special office where we can say what we want.”
This was cynicism at its most elevated level.
The new régime had just abolished all political parties other than the SPUP.
The branch office in each district was that of the SPUP and the opinion that really counted was that which endorses the philosophies and causes of that party.
No one dared come forward to suggest any other view points.
And, not uncharacteristically, an SDP supporter would never deem foul the doorstep of an SPUP branch office. This latter regrettable attitude endures to this day.
Whereas Mr. Rene was right to claim that people felt free to express themselves, he conveniently omitted to point out that this was always a priviledge enjoyed by his partisans only and which was always to endorse party guidelines, principles and actions.
Of press and radio
In so far as the press and radio were concerned, there was simply no comment to cause a ripple in the smooth monologue of the one-party socialist state rhetoric. The press was muzzled. The last independent press ‘the Weekend Life’ would be finally banned some months after that commemorative speech.
The radio used to broadcast international news and public-participation programs. These were cut off and the radio became a party propaganda machine. No views contrary to those of the regime were ever expressed over the radio.
Arrest and Imprisonment without charge and trial, Forced exile
Fearful of counter-coup attempts, and in that regard the régime’s fears were not unfounded as the November 1981 mercenary attack would show, the nation was frequently subjected to ratzias and ensuing curfews.
The ratzias pulled in persons suspected of being unsympathetic towards the regime, for long spells in jails without charge or trial. Many would opt to emigrate. At one point, it was even reported that some 25% of the national population was living outside the country, mostly on forced exile.
There were frequent reports of people ‘disappearing’, never to be heard of again.
The regime used the radio services to broadcast its unsavoury serial ‘Konplo 412’ made up of bugged conversations of dissidents in London. It then gloated over the 1985 assassination of a prominent Seychellois dissident, a Mr. Gerard Hoareau, living in London.
Fear to voice one’s opinion had set in.
When multi-party democracy was re-introduced in 1991 and the country had its first multi-party represented assembly in 16 years, the nation was reminded of what could happen to anyone who dared voice an opinion different from that of the regime’s.
This happened during a formal session of the newly elected National Assembly, when Mr Christopher Gill, a directly elected Member from the district of Belombre, and member of the opposition party, railed against what he perceived as grievances to be laid at the ruling party’s door.
Obviously displeased at what he was hearing, Mr Francis Mcgregor, Speaker of the National Assembly and member of the ruling party’s Central Committee, darkly reminded Mr Gill ‘ou war ou, si nou ti dan lepok parti inik, ou ti ann disparet!’ (if we were in the one party state era, you would have disappeared!)
Surprisingly, this remarkable statement made little impression on the nation, other than timid complaints within the political opposition.
Vey son pye diri (Looking to one’ own)
Those who had no means to emigrate or who would not consider abandoning their cherished motherland, would merely opt to either keep their mouths shut about whatever they found disagreeable with the regime or fake their support. A phrase was coined for this attitude: ‘sakenn i vey son pye diri’( roughly : each look to his own, or’ safeguard one’s interest’
As for the militia, one fails to see how this rag-tag assembly had anything to do with freedom of expression.
The Militia was made up of volunteers, all members and militants of the SPUP with a mix of intelligentsia rubbing shoulders with other common folks in a display of real or orchestrated new egalitarianism.
They were given some basic military training, armed with AK47 kalashnikov rifles and briefed on their mission to ‘defend the revolution’ which consisted mainly of personal dedication, and sensitising others, to the party’s cause, but which the most visible aspect was nightly armed patrols against any eventual ‘counter-revolutionary act’.
The militia endures to this day. It has dropped its revolutionary cant and is now doffed in grey slacks, renamed National Guards and ascribed to security duties at public and sometimes private buildings.
National Workers Union
The National Workers Union did effectively exist. How it represented workers has never been clear. Officials on its management committee were party supporters nominated or appointed by the party (sometimes via mock-elections).
I may be wrong, but it does not seem that, in its whole history from 1978 to 1993, the NWU ever once called out against injustices, unfairness, discrimination etc. at the work place, public or private. Or ever once made a proposal for labour laws or work relations. It most certainly did not conduct labour strikes.
There was, indeed a women’s organisation. It was the party’s Women Organisation and would soon be named the ‘SPPF Women Organisation’ when the SPUP changed its name to SPPF.
The office where ‘we can say what we want’
The office where ‘we can say what we want’ was called ‘the Complaints Office’. It did exist for a year or two.
I may be wrong but it does not seem that this office ever presented any public statement or report of complaints received and how these were managed, if at all.
3. on fisheries and agriculture:
“During the last twelve months, we have thought a lot about agriculture and fisheries…….we have signed agreements with England and France to start our own Industrial Tuna Fishing. On the matter of traditional demersal fishing, we have decided to build a Cold Store with a 100-ton capacity. This cold store is for two reasons. Firstly, to ensure that we have enough reasonably priced fish through all seasons such that everyone can have fish. Secondly, to allow fishermen to sell their catch, irrespective of the time they come in from the fishing banks.
For us to be able to develop our country, we must firstly produce our own food. Last year we imported more than Rs. 60M of food from overseas. Therefore we must grow our food…….”
These would be laughable, were it not about the economic destiny of the nation.
28 years after the country heard those heroically noble words, it still had nothing substantial to show for either Industrial Tuna Fishing or Food Self sufficiency
Industrial Tuna Fishing
National development strategy to launch either Industrial Tuna Fishing. (ITF) or Agriculture has been at best haphazard and all but abandoned after some fits and starts.
Asian long liners were soon joined by European purse seiners and both continue to harvest the fish from our territorial waters.
In the late 80’s, there was a move to start a national purse seiner fleet. Two vessels were commissioned from the Sento shipyard in France. The first of these burned and sank shortly before it was to be delivered, in circumstances never fully elaborated (which is somewhat surprising given the vigilance and professionalism of French authorities )
The second vessel – the largest civilian ship of composite construction to be built in France, was delivered with pomp and ceremony and named, ‘Spirit of Koxe’. It never actually managed to set our ITF off. It would appear that the co-owner and master Jean-Marie Avallone, of the firm “Armement Avallone” subsequently acquired the ship for operation in the Mediterranean region .
28 years down the road, the Ministry of Fisheries had evolved to being a department swallowed by the Ministry of Environment.
The fisheries sector is currently championed by a tuna canning factory owned and operated by foreigners with some local labour input.
There are licences granted to foreign fishing fleets, fees derived from ship handling, one or two privately-owned small-scale local fisheries-export oriented businesses, a state enterprise producing prawns and the traditional fishing sector for the local market.
During the period 2000 – 2003, the combined local owned and / or operated, export-oriented fisheries sector contributes a meagre annual average 8.8% to the total national fisheries export trade.(source (http://www.seychelles.net/misdstat/)
Agriculture and Self Sufficiency
For the Agricultural Sector, the call for self sufficiency was to be shown as more pomp and fanfare than anything serious.
A state company was created. Grandly named, the State Agricultural Development Corporation, (SADECO) had a short life. It started off with projects to grow potatoes, fruits, vegetables, breed animals, etc.
Its flagship base, a large estate of prime land compulsorily acquired from its private owner in ‘in the interest of the state’ under the national land acquisition laws, did turn up a few fruit trees. But the land was turned over for housing development in the late 1990s.
Our valiant attempts at growing potatoes turned up a few publicity campaign and political propaganda harvests for a year or two. Then it got forgotten amidst potato blight that had soon infested other local traditional cultivation like coco-yams.
SADECO did not live to beyond the 1990s. It finally disappeared after a brief revelation of financial scandal and thievery.
A state enterprise pompously named Island Development Company (IDC) was also created to run the outlying island estates confiscated from its private owners. The islands were at the time mostly producing copra, guano, salted fish and other agricultural produce.
The IDC was to enhance the production of these traditional produce as well as to promote new productions of fresh poultry and other meats such as lamb and turkey.
By 2007, not a single piece of mutton was ever put on the local market nor any produced for export. The country continued to import turkey and by Christmas 2006, that annual roast was costing 300% more than its 1990 price.
Poultry production all but seized up. The chicken coops on Silhouette, the IDC’s flagship island, were abandoned and empty since the early 1990s.
In the early 2000, they were being used as site housing for Indian expatriate workers on private tourism development projects on the island.
The main singular activity that the IDC has managed to stick to over the years is that of seasonal harvesting of the eggs that migratory birds lay in millions on certain outlying islands such as Desnoeuf. A local traditional delicacy, the ‘birds’ egg’ now sells at 3000% of its 1960’s price. A heaven –sent manna to fill the IDC’s coffers.
Some time after the SADECO and IDC were launched, the regime created another state enterprise, the behemoth Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB). This became to be a very tentacular enterprise, manoeuvring to control everything from import-export to wholesale and retail commerce.
It soon became obligatory for all local farmers to sell their produce to the SMB. It became similarly obligatory for all fruit and vegetable retailers, butchers, animal fatteners, breeders, etc to buy from the SMB.
The latter set what it called seasonal prices for fruits and vegetables. Low prices in the typically abundant northwest monsoon period (November – March) and higher prices in the drier South West Monsoon.
A few years later and after considerable recurring objections across the country, the SMB abandoned its control of retail trade in vegetables and fruits. However, the price-reference point for these produce remained at the dry monsoon season level. Cost of living followed.
The fishermen had their traditional truculence to thank for keeping the SMB out of their hair. The SMB did try to impose the same conditions that applied to farmers. But it soon gave up.
4. On housing
“Over the last twelve months, Government has done a supreme effort to help people to build more houses. In one year, we have provided loans to 230 families whereas only 60 loans were provided (during the period 1974 to 1977……
….Since June 1977, we have bought several plots of land for us to build houses. And soon, the European Common Market will give us money to help us help our people to have their own houses……..
…….For us to get the money, those who give the money put conditions that we, as the people’s representatives, could not accept. For example, they wanted us to have pit latrines instead of septic tanks. This we refused. They told us it was not necessary to have a small garden for each house. This too we could not accept. Our tradition is that we have a small plantation nearby to our house and this tradition we have to protect……’
Decent housing is the preoccupation of nearly all governments across the world, irrespective of ideology.
Obviously Mr Rene’s government could not have, at the time, the priviledge of witnessing the evolution of their housing policies over the years. And it is of course easier now to analyse and criticise, with the benefit of hindsight. However, it is clear that the programs had built-in faults.
During the period mid 1960s to mid 1970s housing estates were built at Corgat Estate, Les Mamelles, Anse Aux Pins, and Port Glaud.
The houses were all made of bricks, covered with corrugated iron sheets, had louvred windows, internal plumbing, including sanitary facilities, and electricity.
Though the individual house was of a standard far above the often ramshackle and dilapidated abodes of a significant sector of the national population, their lay-out did not present an appealing estate.
The estate at Anse Aux Pins was quickly dubbed ‘Kan Poul’ (Chicken Camp ) and it, as well as the estates at Les Mamelles and Corgat Estate, slowly turned into a blur on the social housing landscape, racked by petty crime, incessant inter-neighbour squabbles, overflowing faulty drainage, etc
Individual housing units soon became over-crowded as family members grew up, had children and all tried to fit in the family home.
Notwithstanding, most of these housing estates endured their full 30-year lifespan till early 2000 when they underwent a thorough re-construction.
Kan Poul was razed in the 1990s. Les Mamelles was reconstructed in the early 2000. Corgat Estate is currently undergoing reconstruction.
At about the time the country became independent, the new Government of National Unity had a housing project at Pointe Larue, in what was to become the Nageon Housing Estate, to provide a new style of individual houses.
Three specimen houses were constructed by and to the west of the Pointe Larue coastal main road to show-case the project. Each were modern, independent of each other, and had its own grounds. They still stand today, though successive occupants have enhanced them.
The European Common Market financed the project and is presumably the same Mr Rene referred to in his commemorative speech.
Clearly, the project was on line well before the coup d’etat. And clearly, each house was to be of a standard above that of the previous housing estates.
Mr Rene was therefore not being truthful when he claimed that the Europeans did not want the houses to have flush toilets nor individual small gardens.
When his government finally completed the Nageon Housing Estate, none of the new houses resembled those show-cased by the road. Most were a combination of brickwork and timber with corrugated iron sheet roofing plus the, by then, basic standards of internal plumbing and electricity!
The nation was not particularly impressed. Nor were the occupants.
The Estate was quickly dubbed ‘Kan Pizon’ (Pigeons’ Camp) signifying local appreciation that it was not far above the Kan Poul estate at Anse Aux Pins.
Kan Pizon endures to this day.
Over the years, after the Nageon Housing Estate project, Mr Rene’s regime embarked on more large – scale social programs which included the provision of Housing. The regime was to face considerable pressure to deliver the goods.
Coupled with a policy of social patronisation, the housing policy required that some houses are of the highest standard. This is all to his regime’s credit, but in view of the high costs, this social arrogance to forgo the wisest economic investment policy would soon have him revert to the time-tested apartment buildings as part of his social housing program.
The pledge to protect the local tradition of the family garden by each house was quickly and easily discarded.
His regime still cannot provide housing for all as he promised 28 year ago and continues to promise to this day.
Some families, long used to fare for themselves rather than relying on state benevolence, managed to build their own homes, modest, modern and comfortable. Some took housing loans from either the private commercial banks or from under the Government’s Housing program and repaid their loans over a typically 10-15 year period
Others scrimped and saved and built their own houses slowly without taking any loans, relying only on family solidarity.
The greater number of local families however opted to rely on the state housing program.
Often enough, some enter their new houses and promptly ignore the rent or loan repayment thus seriously contributing to compromise the viability of the social housing program. The situation got to be so bad that in the early 2000, the Government disbanded the state Housing Development Corporation and re-structured the housing loan policy.
This allowed mostly for a transfer of housing loan management to and by the private commercial banks.
In 2006, the situation had not significantly improved, to the point that Government was compelled, half in what some observers call a pitiful vote-buying gesture for the imminent presidential election, to announce massive reductions in loan balance repayments, so as to have tenants pay for the houses they occupy and thus rid the state of the despairing unpaid social housing burden
In September 2007, the new Minister with portfolio responsibility for housing, acknowledged that Government sometimes bend to community pressure for housing. In his response to a question from the Honourable elected Member of the National Assembly for Anse Etoile district of North East Mahé, on issues of treated water supply and unspecified sewerage problem in newly constructed housing units at La Gogue village of the district. The Minister revealed that Government, under pressure to provide houses to persons from that district, allowed, 18 tenants to move into newly constructed houses when these units had not yet been connected to the treated water supply. The tenants had apparently given their prior agreement to this.
As a temporary measure, untreated water was provided from a stream, while waiting for treated supply which will be arranged upon completion of a SCR500,000, 100kl reservoir to serve the new housing units.
As for the unspecified sewerage problem, the Minister revealed that there is a plan to provide a sewerage treatment plant for the region. This however will only get underway after completion of the 2nd phase of the housing project. No dates were given.
Some would reasonably argue that this is clearly putting the cart before the horse. Which is not atypical shoddy planning in the face of social pressures for short-term relief and long term loss and problem management!
One aspect of the housing policy that merits a little attention is the Tenants’ Rights Act. Simply put, it allowed any tenant who had lawfully rented a house and properly executed the tenancy terms for a consecutive period of five years, to apply for full ownership of the rented house. This little piece of socialist legislation is perhaps the single most important cause for the lack of private sector financing in the housing.
5. On External Help
“The whole world has recognised that there is now, in Seychelles, a serious nation that has taken over the steering of the country……..a lot of countries and organisations are ready to help us build our new society. They know that the help they give will not be wasted and will be used in the interest of the people……But we will not be able to continue receiving aid. This is a sacred principle to us. We need to be a nation that can stand alone rather than one that relies on crutches.”
Nice words. And how awfully and terribly designed to lull and mis-inform
To cut a long story short, let us only consider that 28 years down the road, the national external debt remained at Rs. 2.6 billion or 70.31¨% GDP!
In a world of sympathetic socialist governments and like –minded international organisations from Europe, Asia and Africa, a flurry of enthusiasm allowed foreign aid to flow in immediately after the coup d’etat. The regime was thus well propped up
Perhaps we thought the day we would have to really stand alone was way, far way in the future
Then came the demise of the socialist block from the late 1980s. The new watch words became Democracy, Transparency, Good Governance and Respect of Human Rights.
Foreign aid trickled away.
And the country suddenly found itself without the crutches that had propped it up.
And we started toppling over!
The economic chasm that opened up before us has been made worse by one mis-guided economic and investment policy after another, coupled with waste, corruption, mis-management, cronyism.
From the Gold Card to the EDA, to the sale of Seychellois nationality, to the giving away of state land for Rs. 1, to foreign loans for white elephant projects, etc..
6. Of land development for Agriculture
‘Our agriculture on Mahe and the Outlying Islands must be mechanised. We have difficult terrain and we need machines. Before the end of this year, we are going to have, here in Seychelles, to help those who want to till the land, more tractors and other agricultural machinery that we have never seen before, and Government will put these at the disposal of those who are interested in toiling the land.”
No comment. Agricultural mechanisation never hit our islands.
The tractors and other un-seen before machines must have been dropped overboard during shipment from wherever they were promised